Be­tween the Tape –

Australian Mountain Bike - - Contents - WORDS: SE­BAS­TIAN JAYNE PHOTO: ROBERT CONROY

With the big­gest moun­tain bik­ing event in the world hit­ting our shores re­cently it should come as no sur­prise what I’ll talk about first. The Moun­tain Bike World Cham­pi­onships is a mas­sive event for Aus­tralia to host and for it to be run so well is a mas­sive tes­ta­ment to all in­volved. And to top off the event for XCO, Cameron Wright won the Ju­nior World’s race! For Aus­tralian moun­tain bik­ing, and ob­vi­ously for Cam, that is a mas­sive ac­com­plish­ment - and not only that, but we also had Matt Din­ham in sev­enth!

Two rid­ers in the top 10 of a World Cham­pi­onships is in­cred­i­ble and it goes with­out say­ing the fu­ture of Aussie cross-coun­try rac­ing is ex­tremely bright. As a whole, the World Cham­pi­onships were a mas­sive suc­cess, with many great rides by Aussie rid­ers and an awesome at­mos­phere cre­ated by the fans who had gone up to watch the rac­ing.

For me per­son­ally, it was amaz­ing to ride the streets of Cairns in the days lead­ing up to the race and see so many top rid­ers from other coun­tries cruis­ing around, ad­ver­tis­ing our sport. Moun­tain bik­ing, in gen­eral, isn’t the main­stream jug­ger­naut of footy or swim­ming, but hope­fully it’s just a lit­tle bit big­ger now thanks to the World Cham­pi­onships and the cov­er­age it re­ceived around the na­tion. Roam­ing the streets was one thing, but rac­ing in front of a home crowd was an­other, al­to­gether and it was epic. The 2009 World Cham­pi­onships was my first taste of in­ter­na­tional moun­tain bik­ing. I didn’t get to go, but I did watch it on TV and early the next year I got to do my very first na­tional se­ries race on that Mt Stromlo course. I took the B-line through the Ham­mer­head sec­tion, but it was a start. Hope­fully there’s many more kids out there right now who have been in­spired by the Worlds. Maybe even an­other fu­ture cham­pion!

I won’t go ram­bling about ju­nior de­vel­op­ment, as it should be ob­vi­ous how im­por­tant it is. We have an ex­tremely mo­ti­vated and tal­ented group of ju­nior rid­ers, so the key thing now is to make sure they stay that mo­ti­vated and tal­ented into U23s and hope­fully beyond. One thing I did want to talk about was the po­ten­tial ‘re­forms’ to World Cup XCO rac­ing. For next year, the UCI are plan­ning a seed­ing event be­fore the XCO races. The for­mat will be a 20 minute short course race (XCC) that will most likely be run the day be­fore and will seed an unan­nounced num­ber of rid­ers. Maybe only the top 16, maybe the top 50. As an ex­tra event over the week­end, I think it will be a great ad­di­tion. But as a seed­ing event, prob­a­bly not.

It will be awesome to see the top rid­ers like Jaroslav and Nino go head-to-head over a shorter and faster course, bat­tling for po­si­tion and try­ing to get the tac­ti­cal edge on each other and the rest be­fore the fin­ish line. It will also be widely ac­ces­si­ble for many peo­ple who don’t un­der­stand the sport to be able to watch and en­joy as op­posed to a one-lap time trial or other such seed­ing method. The TT qual­i­fy­ing method might be a lit­tle bor­ing with­out the bar-to-bar ac­tion of short course, but it has the bonus of the best rider com­ing out on top, with­out the risk of them be­ing taken out by a low-ranked rider with a fast start and then hav­ing to start the main event from down in the pack. Any­one who has raced an XC event will tell you that this is al­most im­pos­si­ble to come back from and then be fresh enough to fight for the win.

Al­though maybe that is what the UCI are aim­ing for. After the ridicu­lously dom­i­nant run by Nino Schurter - win­ning ev­ery event worth win­ning in 2017 - maybe a change is needed to ‘throw the cat among the pi­geons’. Sure, they prob­a­bly aren’t hop­ing the World Champ gets taken out and starts from the back, but the de­mands of sprint­ing on a pre­sum­ably flat course for 20 min­utes in the XCC and climb­ing around an XCO track for one-and-a-half hours are dif­fer­ent and might mix things up enough to keep the sport in­ter­est­ing.

I re­main to be con­vinced this is the right way to go. If they do want a shake up, my pre­ferred way would be heat races that qual­ify rid­ers to make it into a main event. This would be sim­i­lar to mo­tocross, with the field split and ran­domised into two groups of 50 based on UCI rank­ing and then rac­ing for two laps of the XCO course - about 30 min­utes. The main events, A and B, would be one hour long and made up of the top and bot­tom 25 of the two heats. It might be a bit of a lo­gis­ti­cal chal­lenge for the or­gan­is­ers, but it should al­le­vi­ate the chal­lenge of con­ges­tion that makes XCO quite frus­trat­ing at times - while also giv­ing a wider range of rid­ers the time in the spot­light.

At the end of the day, the ath­letes need to get out be­tween the tape and go full gas, what­ever the for­mat. And that will al­ways pro­vide the fans with one epic spec­ta­cle. But for now, it’s the off-sea­son when the en­gines get put away for a much-de­served rest. But 2018 is just around the cor­ner and I can’t wait to see what hap­pens!

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